TBB Talks … Becoming Abi with Creator Bolu Essien

Becoming Abi is the latest offering coming out of Lagos and onto Netflix.

It charts the story of a young creative working in advertising and the trials and tribulations she faces trying to climb the career ladder. Loosely based on the experiences of lead actress and producer Bolu Essien, it follows Abi as she navigates love, friendships and professional relationships inside and outside the office. In 6 parts and very binge-able this is a perfect Sunday afternoon watch.

Afua Hagan took some time out with Bolu ahead of the series release to talk about her experiences that inspired the series, as well as wearing many creative hats. 

Tell us about your latest project.

Becoming Abi is my latest project which I created, wrote, co-directed, and produced. I also start as the titular character Abi. I had taken a break from acting in 2012 and was working in the corporate world but never stop creating and writing so officially came back in 2021. Took acting classes in 2021 at IDSA and did a short film that has been airing on cable since last year titled Things That Broke Us which I also wrote and produced but decided it was time these stories from our film slate and here we are with Becoming Abi.

Modern Nigerian TV is dominating Netflix – what is it about Becoming Abi that will stand out for viewers?

The honesty and authenticity with which we tried to tell the story will make it stand out. It’s honestly told from the lead character’s point of view. Remember, life is about perspective, so you get to see how she sees the happenings around her. Secondly, it’s the universality of the themes, friendship, love, office politics, power dynamics in the workplace and so much more. These are all things people of all races and nations can relate to and we all struggle with daily, so I am hoping they see it and love it just the way we enjoyed making it.

What was the motivation behind your career break which gave you the opportunity to make Becoming Abi?

To be honest, I didn’t take a break, I used my annual leave for this. So, it was weekend pre-production meetings, late night, and public holiday writings and then we shot the series during my annual leave. My corporate experience came in handy in organisation, structure, and the understanding to make the best out of what we had.

How much of Becoming Abi is fact and how much of it is fiction? –

I’ll say half and half. There were moments that were extremely true to my experiences, but I lifted the exact happening and placed them in a different scenario, some were about how I felt and maybe not necessarily what anyone did, and there are part that are outright fiction because not everything that happens to us in life is dramatic.

The series is loosely based on your time in advertising – tell us about a scene or moment that best describes your time working in that career?

So many moments but one that remains fresh is what you see in episode 3. A staff member that was reporting to me made a major error on a brand’s social media page, as a manager that was my error because if I had a process in place to avoid such an occurrence that wouldn’t have happened, but the truth is you can’t always pre-empt life. You can be proactive but sometimes life happens, and you improve on how you approach work or life in general.

You also set up your own production company to make the series – how challenging was it to do everything at the same time?

Where there is a will; there is a way. I have a team who handles operations whilst I work with contractual staff on the creative side. It’s a lot, to be honest, but sometimes you have to do it to activate your vision or goals. If I had to pitch the series to other production companies, they might have other projects they are working on or might not get the vision. With our team we just looked at our slate of projects, did the research on what is in the market, what are consumers were yearning for and found a balance with our vision and approach to innovative storytelling/filmmaking.

What’s your current plan B?

Acting and filmmaking is a calling for me. It’s my purpose; to tell stories that people can relate to and can draw strength from. So if anything, it will be a matter of scale which to be honest, I don’t have full control over. The best you can do is create and pitch and hopefully people see the vision and buy into it. The scale will happen in its time but one thing I promise myself is to tell stories as an actor, creator, and writer.

What’s made you Sad, Mad, or Glad this week.

Sad: The flood in Nigeria is causing a lot of damage and rendering a lot of people homeless. This is extremely sad. I strongly hope that the government steps in and at least gives relief funds to affected victims. Mad: Nothing I can think of! Glad: Becoming Abi launches today, Oct 28 on Netflix globally. A dream come true, I’m grateful to God for the gift and the opportunity.

Olayode Juliana, Bolu Essien, Ifeanyi Kalu, Akah Nnani, and Biodun Stephen in Becoming Abi (2022)

What are you watching right now?

Pride and Prejudice starring Keira Knightley & Matthew Macfadyen … (laughs) I watch it almost once every month. It’s that good. Of course, Woman King with Viola Davis, directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood. Seen it twice. Would see it once more or two. I am waiting for Black Panther 2 as well. Wakanda forever!

What are you reading right now?

Respect for Acting by Uta Hagen.

What are you listening to right now?

You Made A Way by Travis Green.

The last thing you saw on stage?

Love and Its Other Sides. It’s a musical by Lydar Productions.

What’s on your bucket list?

To act with Viola Davis and get a deal to create projects on our slate at Evolving Light Studios. An international award wouldn’t be a bad either!

Celebrate someone else – who do you rate right now?

My husband, we took all we had and invested into Becoming Abi. It was a risk, but we did it and he supported me all the way.

Celebrate yourself – tell us something to make us proud of you!

I am proud that I get to tell stories people can relate to locally and globally.

Remind us again when the series is out?

Becoming Abi comes out globally now on Netflix.


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